Retrofits have always been a part of modifying US military vessels and aircraft since the beginning of time because it is usually cheaper to fix and add on rather than start over from scratch. The same carries thrrough with the starships from Star Trek, and this was mainly the same reason(s) that it was cheaper to change stickers or make new details to go on the existing practical miniatures rather than build a whole new model. At one point, Andy Probert’s “D” was considered to be the new non retro-ed “E” in the early days of First Contact to save big cash on a new ship.
Probably one of the best examples of a multiple major retrofit would be for the USS Midway CV-41. The US aircraft carrier served in WWII and was designed with one long and narrow flight deck. The ship’s first retrofit was the addition of an angled landing and launch strip which brought her into the jet age. The next and biggest retro fit was the addition of another aircraft elevator (3 in all) and a widening and lengthening of the angled landing deck. The carrier with all of its redesigns served from the 40′s to the early 2000′s and is now docked as a permanent museum in the San Diego harbor. She’s a beautiful ship and one incredible tour.
The Midway’s massive changes were the core inspiration for the Enterprise-E’s retrofits as well. Script changes for the three films that featured the E were the basis for a lot of the major changes and personal reasons were behind the minor ones. The “E” was designed for the 1996 Star Trek film, First Contact, and the written description of the ship was that it was the battle bird of Starfleet with the sole purpose of battling an inevitable attack from the Borg! Thus the design of the ship followed a different path more towards the aggressive rather than the peaceful “D” that Andy designed.
The film a was a huge design show and most of the art department was splitting duties between DS9, Voyager, and First Contact. My job was to get the designs of the ships as far as the approval process, then move on to the next one. For the “E” it took a while to get there, but I was very excited and happy with the final rough sketch that the producers approved. With that sketch came some rough views and lots and lots of detail drawings showing different parts of the ship and how everything came together. As all of this was going on at my desk, Rick Sternbach was at his in the Voyager art dept. working on the deck details, and eventually the blueprints. Our work loads were huge with all going on and I was so happy that Rick was doing the plans, although I was extremely envious and wanted to carry this one to the end. Rick masterfully set the sketch to working drawings, and added all the subtle details that he was so good at. Rick’s plans where specifically for ILM to build the miniature from, and poor Rick never got to fully complete the plans. By the time he had to be finished, he had drawn the top, bottom, front, back, and side views of the saucer and the main hull of the ship. His final drawing was of the nacelle strut but he was never allowed the time to attach it to the ship or even to draw a single line of what the nacelle was to be. Voyager had to have him back full-time so the E plans were incomplete.
Herman Zimmerman (my boss) asked for a model to be built so as to help sell what we were doing, step-by-step, to the producers, and also to help work out the unforeseen problems that could happen without a full set of plans. The finished model was about 28 inches long and wound up being gold plated and displayed in the ready-room of the Enterprise set. Both a casting of the model and Rick’s plans went to ILM where their genius took over and one awesome model was created. Big too, measuring about 11 feet long. All was awesome, and she was a beauty on the silver-screen. Once the film was well on its way, we started receiving a lot of photos of the model in plan view shots so as to aid in the accuracy for the graphics and playback. Looking at the photos, there were a few lines that I wish I could have changed if I would have had the chance.
With Insurrection, the E made the jump from practical motion-control miniature to a CG model. For this one, my job was to make a set of plans based upon both Rick’s work and the finished miniature from ILM. So the first set of complete plans were compiled and sent off to Santa Barbara VFX studio to be modeled digitally. Being an already established starship, nothing was done to alter the main lines of what had already been seen on the screen, and careful measures where taken when we were creating the Captain’s Yacht out of the under-saucer torpedo launcher, so as to maintain continuity. About this time Star Trek The Magazine was being produced out of the UK. and they had sent over their version of the E plans for future magazine art and articles. Their art department was phenomenal with all that they did, and for the “E” they really beautifully represented all the various views of the ship.
When Nemesis came along there were to be changes and detail additions to the E and the CG work was moving from Santa Barbara to Digital Domain and a whole new group of 3D and practical modelers were ready to take the reigns. With these changes came a request to alter the ship’s lines a bit to bring the new ship closer to the original lines from the sketch. Approval was granted, but was to be in two parts. For the E seen in the majority of the film, the drawings provided by Star Trek The Magazine were used to do the subtle line changes, with the additional weapons and launcher details added. The digital model files were provided from Santa Barbera and all was thrown into the lap of Jay Barton at Digital Domain. Jay made a fantastic model and put a beautiful and moody paint scheme on the new retro-ed E. For the end of the film the badly destroyed and damaged E is being rebuilt in space-dock. This is where the opportunity was given to really fix all the lines and flow to match the roots of where the original drawing had left off. Not too often does one gets the chance to rework a beloved piece of art, and I was so happy to get the chance regardless of how minor the changes were.
The drawings were done and to be seen as the E leaves the space-dock at the end of Nemesis, with what we were hoping to get approval on being the new aztec patterned paint job, that was so prominent with all the preceding variations of the Enterprise. As production went on, it was becoming clear that Nemesis was going to be the last of the TNG movies and thus, the E would fly no more. Very sad thoughts, and I was so hoping to at least to get to see that final version fly off into space… Budget and script changes kept the E in the bay under repair so all that exists of the big finish only exists on paper as a bunch of plans. She had a short life, but what she got to do in that time was a treat to watch on the big-screen. Lots of plans to see, and one big compilation puts all the variations into perspective. Lots of fun to throw into Photoshop and make a transparency to overlay to see how the lines subtly change. So with that, enjoy the USS Midway and the E both, from start, to their farewell journey.